Category Archives: Wildlife Protection

Say No to Seismic Testing

Recently, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) authorized the use of seismic testing for offshore oil and gas resources in the Atlantic Ocean. According to the lawsuit filed by a group of nine Attorneys General, including Massachusetts’ Maura Healey, this decision violates environmental law and has the potential to harm more than 300,000 marine mammals. The group is suing the Trump administration over this decision.

Specifically, the NMFS decision issued Incidental Harassment Authorizations to five private companies for seismic testing for offshore oil and gas exploration in the Mid- and South-Atlantic Ocean. 

A North Atlantic right whale and calf. Photo credit: NOAA

Going forward, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is responsible for permitting geophysical surveys, and makes decisions about energy development in the waters of the outer continental shelf. The seismic testing decision also comes as the federal government is moving forward with a proposal to expand US offshore oil and gas drilling – which we also oppose.

Let BOEM know it would be unacceptable to permit any surveys that allow harmful seismic testing – you can email BOEMPublicAffairs@boem.gov. Our marine species, like the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale, are already vulnerable to threats like climate change, and the impacts of these types of tests on their populations could be disastrous.

Wind and Wildlife

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has spoken out against wind energy on the grounds that it kills birds—but estimated bird deaths from wind turbines are small when compared to other human-caused sources of avian mortality, like building collisions. On top of that, climate change is by far the biggest threat to all birds living today. Of Massachusetts’ 143 breeding bird species evaluated by Mass Audubon, 43% are “highly vulnerable” to its effects.

That’s why Mass Audubon supports responsibly-sited wind projects to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. We can do this by increasing conservation and efficiency, and by producing clean energy. Wind energy is now among the most cost-effective, competitive, and reliable clean technologies available.

Photo credit: Ryan O’Sullivan

Any development of new energy sources is bound to have some impact on wildlife and their habitat, but Mass Audubon advocates for prospective offshore wind projects to be designed to avoid any significant environmental damage. Anticipated impacts need to be minimized and mitigated – that’s the sequence to success and the review standard to which all projects should be held. With appropriate design, siting and mitigation, the industry can grow as Massachusetts does its part to combat the impacts of global climate change.

Read more in our recent Op Ed.

More Momentum for US Offshore Wind

Update 12/17/18:

Last week, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) held their auction for three offshore wind leases in federal waters south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The results were staggering – the winning bids from three companies totaled $405 million, which is nearly a tenfold increase from the most recent prior federal sale! The areas could support approximately 4.1 gigawatts of commercial wind generation, enough to power nearly 1.5 million homes. Federal officials and wind industry insiders alike were surprised by the sale – this Boston Globe article looks at how the event marks a decided shift for US offshore wind energy.

In other wind news, Mass Audubon will also be commenting on the latest stage of Vineyard Wind’s proposed offshore project later this month, on which BOEM will be holding public hearings.

Original post:

Last week the Department of the Interior (DOI) announced several major developments in American offshore wind energy, including one here in Massachusetts.

Expansion of offshore wind here in the US will be critical in reducing emissions that contribute to climate change.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will hold the next Massachusetts offshore wind auction – to include nearly 390,000 acres – on December 13, 2018. Nineteen companies have qualified to participate in the auction. It’s estimated that this auction could support more 4.1 gigawatts of power to supply nearly 1.5 million homes. Mass Audubon plans to review and comment on any projects resulting from the lease.

Speaking at the American Wind Energy Association Offshore Wind Conference, DOI Secretary Zinke also announced the environmental review of a proposed wind project offshore Rhode Island, and the next steps to a first-ever wind auction in federal waters off of California.

While this is good news for the growth of renewable energy, the Trump administration also plans to ease Endangered Species Act regulations to speed up the approval process for offshore wind projects. Mass Audubon will be opposing that change – for offshore wind deployment to be done in a way that is safe for wildlife, a full understanding of the risks to species is needed.

Learn more about Mass Audubon’s recent involvement with the offshore wind public review process here.

Bald eagle © Robert DesRosiers

Endangered Species at Risk Again

Update 10/1/2018: Mass Audubon signed onto joint comments with more than 200 of our partner conservation groups to speak out against these proposed changes.

Over the past few weeks, the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) has come under unprecedented threat. For 45 years the law has successfully protected wildlife, including species like the Bald Eagle, which the ESA helped bring back from the brink of disappearing in the US. In fact, thanks to the ESA, more than 99 percent of the nearly 1,800 animals and plants protected by it have been saved from extinction.

Now, the ESA is under attack. In the past two weeks, more than two dozen pieces of legislation, policy initiatives, and amendments designed to weaken the law have surfaced. Many of these proposed changes have been under the guise of “updating” or “reforming” the Act, but in reality would undermine its core principles and gut its scientific basis for protecting wildlife.

Bald eagle © Robert DesRosiers

Bald Eagle © Robert DesRosiers

Earlier this month, Mass Audubon and 420 other national, state, and local conservation groups sent a letter to US Senate and House leadership voicing our overwhelming support for the ESA. Our group included at least one organization from all 50 states.

We’ll be continuing to follow this issue closely, and will keep you updated with actions you can take to keep the ESA firmly in place.

North Atlantic Right Whales Need Our Help

The North Atlantic right whale is in trouble. Since April 2017, at least 18 North Atlantic right whales have died and, for the first time ever, no new calves have been spotted this year. Scientists estimate that fewer than 440 individuals remain. Right whales are often killed by entanglement in commercial fishing gear and ship strikes, and their low population numbers can’t afford to let these incidents continue.

A North Atlantic right whale and calf. Photo credit: NOAA

Mass Audubon is writing to our congressional delegation in support of the federal SAVE Right Whales Act, sponsored by Congressman Seth Moulton and Senator Cory Booker. The SAVE Right Whales Act would establish a new grant program to fund collaborative projects between states, nongovernmental organizations, and members of the fishing and shipping industries to reduce the impacts of human activities on North Atlantic right whales. Please ask your US Representative and Senators to support this bill.

You can also call on NOAA to continue stepping up efforts to protect these creatures. Ask Regional Administrator Michael Pentony and his Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office to expand their efforts to protect North Atlantic right whales, since the measures implemented to date by federal regulators have not gone far enough to save them from the threat of extinction.

 

 

Action You Can Take This Week: Support Pollinator Habitat Protection

One of our top legislative priorities this session is a bill related to pollinator health: S.2460resolve to protect pollinator habitat, filed by Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) and Representative Mary Keefe (D-Worcester). It was recently reported to the Senate Committee on Rules, the last stop before consideration before the full Senate.

We need your help to get this bill passed before the end of the session! Please call your state Senator today and ask them to support this bill, which is critical to protecting both wild and native bees, as well as a whole range of pollinators including butterflies.

Photo credit: Zeynel Cebeci

The Intern Intel Report #1: Summer 2018 Edition

Hi! I’m Jetta Cook and I’m a new Conservation Policy Intern here at Mass Audubon. I’m an incoming senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where I’m double majoring in Natural Resource Conservation and Legal Studies. For as long as I can remember, I have had a love for the outdoors, and the creatures that call it home. I hope to enter the field of environmental law and policy to help in the fight to preserve our natural world.

Growing up on Cape Cod, it was hard not to spend as much time as possible outdoors. Being surrounded by such large areas of protected land allowed me great opportunities that I would like to help ensure for the next generation. I became acquainted with Mass Audubon and the great work they do through my time spent at Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, where I explored both with my family and through their summer camp sessions, which I both attended and volunteered for. I also helped volunteer at Cape Cod National Seashore for both their Interpretive and Natural Resource divisions, protecting the land and helping to show visitors what makes that park so special. Through these opportunities, it has become clear to me that through the hard work and dedication of these organizations, crucial land and habitat can be protected, along with the wildlife species that depend on them.

Going forward, I hope to continue more into the field of environmental law and policy to help ensure the conservation of our natural world. I am hoping to go to law school to give me more tools to assist in my passion for conservation. Over the course of the summer, I will be gaining experience to help me on my way. I will be writing more blog posts about this journey, and I hope you will all come along for the ride!

Conservation Policy intern Jetta Cook

 

Help Trailside Secure Needed Funding

Update 5/29/18: Good news – the version of the Senate FY19 budget that ultimately passed included $300,000 for Trailside! Thanks to everyone who contacted their state senator in support of Trailside funding. A conference committee will now have to reconcile the House and Senate budget versions, and we’ll be advocating for the highest funding levels for our priority programs.

As the FY19 state budget continues its progress through the State House, we’re at a crucial point for Mass Audubon’s Blue Hills Trailside Museum funding.

Trailside is the interpretive center for the state-owned Blue Hills Reservation and features a natural history museum and outdoor exhibits of rescued wildlife. Mass Audubon operates the museum in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, which means we receive a crucial component of Trailside’s funding through the state budget each fiscal year. Trailside welcomes more than 100,000 visitors a year and is home to the Snowy Owl Project.

Trailside director Norman Smith before releasing a Snowy Owl to safety. Photo: Raymond MacDonald

Although the Governor’s original FY19 budget did not include funding for Trailside, the House version included $50,000 thanks to an amendment filed by Representative William Driscoll.

Now the Senate is gearing up to debate their version of the budget on May 22, and Senator Walter Timilty has filed an amendment requesting $1 million for Trailside.

Over the past few years, Trailside has faced a continuing revenue shortfall and received only a fraction of the state funding needed to sustain its operation and public programs. Senator Timilty’s amendment is a chance to reclaim that much-needed funding.

You can help! Please contact your state Senator and ask them to support Senator Timilty’s Amendment #935 for Trailside. A quick call or email can make a big difference. Thank you for your advocacy!

The Word on Offshore Wind

Mass Audubon submitted comments to the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) on the latest stage of review for the proposed 800 MW Vineyard Wind project. The offshore wind facility would be located in federal waters, with transmission cables crossing Massachusetts waters and connecting to a landfall on Cape Cod.

To meet Massachusetts’ long term renewable energy goals, the state is seeking bids to procure 1,600 MW of offshore wind energy. Vineyard Wind is currently one of the three offshore wind energy projects competing for a contract in Massachusetts, and is the first to initiate a long and complicated state, federal, local, and regional permitting process.

Offshore wind is on the horizon for Massachusetts

Mass Audubon supports the responsible development of clean, renewable energy that reduces the worst effects of climate change. But, we also urge BOEM and project developers to operate under appropriate conditions to protect important habitats and the marine and bird species that utilize these areas. Read the letter here.

We also signed onto a group comment letter with partners including the Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, and others

Vineyard Wind has also continued to move forward with state-level permitting, filing their draft Environmental Impact Report with the Commonwealth for the wind farm’s transmission cable to the land-based grid. We’ll be commenting on that process as well. The DEIR is available now on the project website, though the official comment period is not yet open.

We’ll be continuing to follow the development of this project and others proposed off the Massachusetts coast.

Proposed offshore wind leased areas off Massachusetts

Update: Migratory Birds at Risk Once Again

Update 5/31/2018:

A group of national conservation organizations are suing the Department of Interior over changes to the law.

Original post:

This year marks the 100th anniversary of enactment of the US Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), one of America’s first environmental statutes. Despite its longstanding, effective protections for birds, the MBTA is currently under attack by the Trump Administration. Mass Audubon and our federal leaders are speaking out against those attempts to weaken the law.

The MBTA makes it illegal to hunt, trap, kill, or possess nearly 1,000 avian species. When birds die through activities like energy extraction, the MBTA is one way to hold industry responsible, and gives companies a strong incentive to avoid such impacts in the first place.

Snowy owls are among the hundreds of bird species protected by the MBTA.  Photo credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service

In December 2017, the US Department of the Interior (DOI) made a decision to cripple the MBTA. In a legal memorandum, the Department stated that “incidental,” as opposed to “intentional,” bird deaths resulting from energy industry activities will no longer result in prosecution. This definition would effectively remove accountability over such deaths – for example, birds killed in oil spills. This decision comes at a time when migratory birds are already stressed by habitat loss and climate change.

Mass Audubon helped get the MBTA passed in Congress, and we’re speaking up again on its behalf today. See what Mass Audubon President Gary Clayton and Advocacy Director Jack Clarke had to say about “The White House War on Birds” in their Op Ed running in regional newspapers statewide.

Mass Audubon also reached out to the DOI in opposition to this change. You can too.

American goldfinch are also protected by the MBTA. Photo credit: USFWS

Also weighing in are Senator Ed Markey and his colleagues, who wrote to DOI Secretary Ryan Zinke requesting that he fully implement the MBTA and continue holding industries accountable for preventable bird deaths. These Senators are joined by many of their House colleagues, including members of the Massachusetts delegation, who also wrote to Secretary Zinke defending the Act. We encouraged those Massachusetts members who hadn’t yet signed on to add their names.

It’s going to take strong collaboration and continued outreach to ensure that our country’s most important bird protection law itself remains protected.